Feel Good Sentiments I Disagree With

Do you ever watch The Gator Boys?  The Animal Planet series features a pair of alligator wrestlers who travel around in a pick up truck and capture “nuisance gators”– that is, alligators that show up to sun themselves in someone’s backyard pool.  This is not a common problem in Michigan, but it seems to happen frequently in Florida and Mississippi, the Gator Boys stomping ground.

Gators do not have university degrees.  They seem to be quite predictable.  If the animal is in the water, you throw a lasso over its head and drag it to shore.  On land, you dance around it to tire it out, then jump on its back and lift its chin (avoiding the teeth, of course).  For some reason the alligator does not seem to have a counter move to this simple act. Once the jaw is tilted up, you can hold its mouth closed and wrap it with ordinary duct tape.  Voila! Alligator caught.

After watching a program I always find that part of my brain is thinking, “I could do that.” Of course, I know that I could not.  The Gator Boys make it look easy because they have years of experience.

The best artists, too, make their crafts look easy. Little girls often stand in front of the television imitating ballerinas on screen.  Their faces are filled with annoyance when their parents inevitably laugh when they say, “I can do that.”  They haven’t learned yet that some things look easy because they are not!

One of my friends recently posted this in his Facebook feed: “If you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

It sounds innocuous and even uplifting, but it is entirely wrong and it encapsulates a couple of great misconceptions.  The first is a negative idea of “work.”  Work, in this affirmation, is something you do not want to do. It is drudgery.  It is something that other people make you do.  It implies that not working is preferable to working; that work makes you unhappy and that a happy life is one of leisure.

This is wrong on a couple of fronts. Numerous studies have shown that while we think leisure makes us happy, it is actually productive work that makes us happy.  We like to be busy and we like to do things that we think matter.  (Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness has a lot of information on this.)

If you do something you love, you will work every day of your life. You will work harder than those around you who are doing what they do not love.  You will do this no matter how much effort it entails and whether you are rewarded or not, because the thought of not doing it is just impossible.  (See my last post on the Joys of Failure.)

To other people, however, it may look as though it is effortless.

I think the “making it look easy” effect is one of the things that makes it hard for artists to get paid. To people who see work as drudgery it might seem as though you are not doing anything worthy of a paycheck. It is easy for you.  You love what you do.  You are having fun.

Loving what you do and working hard are two sides of the same coin.  Do something you love and you will work hard every day of your life.

More Goofing Off and Daydreaming: More Creative Thinking

“This can be one of the trickiest parts of being a writer, this need to fool around to be creative, and to be okay with that.” From her book A Year of Writing Dangerously.

In his post In Praise of Goofing Off, psychologist Dennis Palumbo notes, “Some people call it puttering, or screwing around, or just plain goofing off. Others, of a more kindly bent, call it day-dreaming. Kurt Vonnegut used the quaint old term ‘skylarking.’


“What I’m referring to, of course, is that well-known, rarely discussed but absolutely essential component of a successful creative person’s life — the down-time, when you’re seemingly not doing anything of consequence. Certainly not doing anything that pertains to that deadline you’re facing: the pitch meeting set for next week, the screenplay you’ve been toiling over, the important audition that’s pending.”

More Goofing Off and Daydreaming: More Creative Thinking